10-Year-Old Determined to See West Texas Sights Before Losing Vision

10-Year-Old Determined to See West Texas Sights Before Losing Vision

By Julia Deng
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - 10-year-old Ben Pierce has a clear vision of all the places in the world he'd like to see, despite steadily losing his sight since birth and being declared legally blind last year.

"He was born four months premature and he has a condition called ROP," his father, Kit Pierce, said. "[That,] incidentally, is the same thing that made Stevie Wonder go blind."

ROP, or retinopathy of prematurity, is a condition affecting blood vessels in the eyes and "one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood," according to the National Institutes of Health.

The disorder "primarily affects premature infants weighing 2.75 pounds or less that are born before 31 weeks of gestation."

According to Kit and his wife, who live with Ben and his five siblings near Dallas, doctors were initially adamant he would not survive.

"It's a miracle that he survived his first night," Kit told NewsWest 9. "Doctors came in and said, 'Nope, not gonna make it.' But he pulled through and he kept on pulling through."

Ben ultimately underwent laser surgery, which treated the ROP but left scarring on his eyeballs.

"So every time he grows, his eyes change shape," his father explained. "They get more oblong; they don't get rounder. And because of that, his vision just gets worse and worse and worse."

As of March 2015, the 10-year-old can technically still see with the help of glasses and his vivid imagination.

Ben told NewsWest 9 about his love of comics - both reading and drawing them.

"Especially [comics with] superheroes," he said.

However, his father said doctors have already declared him legally blind.

"The distance he can see in front of his face is dropping," Kit said. "He has no vision out of the sides of his eyes, which is how he qualifies for 'blind' at this time. So we took the advice of a vision therapist he had, when he was much younger, to get as many visual memories as he could."

Ben began putting together a bucket list of all the places he wanted to see before completely losing his vision.

The list features more than 100 destinations worldwide and four of them happen to be in West Texas.

"We received a fantastic invitation to come out here and see many things that are on Ben's list," Kit told NewsWest 9 at the Blakemore Planetarium in Midland.

Local organizations, including the Midland Convention and Visitors Bureau, are "doing everything [they] can" to help Ben cross more items off his list.

Sarah Marston, a Bureau representative, said, "One of our colleagues called us and said, 'Turn on the Today Show. He's talking about all these places in your area!'"

She watched the NBC report about Ben's bucket list in October 2014 and was "determined" to help his family travel to Balmorhea, the Monahans sand dunes, McDonald Observatory, the Carlsbad Caverns and other natural wonders of the Basin.

"Most people said, 'West Texas is on his list?' But there's this beauty here and we're excited to share that with the world."

Kit told NewsWest 9, "It's really humbling, the kindness that's shown to us by so many people reaching out to make Ben's dreams come true."